Despite more than a year of careful planning and a coordinated communications effort, a major technology modernization project for the Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles led to significant service impacts for residents conducting business with the DMV.
The Department of Revenue issued a statement last month, apologizing for any inconvenience that stemmed from a "prolonged slow down." Many residents waited in line for hours, as employees struggled to provide service on a brand new system not yet operating at full speed. News reports said delays were especially significant in larger counties faced with high transaction volumes.
County DMV offices were closed the first week of May to allow time to convert 6.8 million existing Kansas vehicle records to the new system. Officials encouraged residents to renew their vehicle tags online or through regular mail whenever possible, although some online capabilities were unavailable at certain points during the transition. Grace periods were allowed in limited circumstances to account for people unable to get license plates or renew tags on time as a result of service delays.
While characterizing the service interruptions during the transition period as routine for a change of this magnitude, Department of Revenue public information officer Jeannine Koranda told Government Technology via email this week that the state is keeping its options open going forward, especially as it relates to current project vendor, 3M. "The department continues to evaluate the system closely while keeping all contractual options open for the future," she said.
The new system, which went live in May, processed more than 238,000 transactions last month, and administrators report that most of the state's 105 counties have cleared up processing delays resulting from the conversion.
"At this point, most counties do not have a backlog," said Koranda.
Like many large government agencies, Kansas was using several legacy systems that had grown difficult to upgrade over time and were difficult to support. Separate mainframe systems for vehicle inventory, vehicle information processing, and drivers’ licenses dated back to as early as 1987. Paper-intensive processes and redundant databases on disparate systems no longer made sense.
In 2008, two statutes were passed by Kansas lawmakers that authorized a $4 vehicle registration fee to cover the costs of the $40 million overhaul.
The first phase of the modernization project updated vehicle title and registration processes for Kansans. Processing times are expected to improve by shifting from manual to electronic processing of these types of documents.
The second phase will offer similar updates to the driver's license system. According to the department's website, the timeline for phase two is yet to be determined.
For Kansas, communicating closely in the period leading up to the transition was critical. A dedicated website about the project was launched and extensive training was provided so employees could be as prepared as possible to provide service once the new system was up and running.
Part of that effort included letting county treasurer's offices know that large-scale change is not without its challenges. "It is important to set proper expectations and be honest with partners about issues that are to be expected in any transition of this size," Koranda said.
Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.